Tiahuanaco (tyäwänäˈkō) [key], ancient native ruin, W Bolivia, 34 mi (55 km) S of Lake Titicaca on the Tiahuanaco R. in the S central Andes, near the Peruvian border; also called Tiwanaku or Tiahuanacu. Nearly 13,000 ft (3,962 m) above sea level, Tiahuanaco was probably the center of a pre-Inca empire and is believed by some to have been built by the Aymara and to have had some 30,000–40,000 inhabitants. Much of the construction is unfinished. Building was begun at some time before A.D. 500, and there is evidence of additional construction c.1100–1300. About 1000, Tiahuanaco culture spread to E Bolivia, N Chile, and Peru; the culture flourished for about 200 years. Built of massive blocks weighing up to 100 tons and brought from several miles away, the structures of Tiahuanaco consisted of terraced pyramids, courts, temples (some containing monolithic stone statues of human figures), and urban areas covering some 2.3 sq mi (13.6 sq m) and are superb examples of masonry. The stones, fitted together without mortar, were cut, squared, dressed, and notched with a precision equaled in no other aboriginal South American civilization, not even the Inca. Construction is largely of the platform or monolithic type decorated by conventional incised carving or heads in low relief. The creators of Tiahuanaco excelled as well at ceramics; Tiahuanaco painted pottery is one of the great achievements of pre-Columbian art. Also found at Tiahuanaco were goods made of copper, silver, and obsidian, thought to have been used by the society's elite members.
See A. Posnansky, Tiahuanacu (4 vol., 1945–58); J. A. Mason, The Ancient Civilizations of Peru (1957, rev. ed. 1988); A. L. Kolata, The Tiwanaku (1993).